Parents intuitively know that bonding is a life-long experience with their children, not something that permanently happens in those sleepless nights and disorienting days after birth.
So, eleven years after I took leave for the birth of my first child, I’m starting to question myself as a parent. Have I met the expectations I placed upon myself all those years ago?
That reflection has lead me to take leave from my job in 2018 to re-bond with my children.
I’ve got some science on my side. Australian National University research shows that improved work-life balance for parents has a positive impact on their children’s mental health. Other studies similarly suggest a correlation between positive parental contact and emotional stability of teenage children. Adolescent behaviour, emotional wellbeing and even academic results correlate with increased quality parental time.
I stand in judgement of no one else but myself in making this decision. I set some goals about the sort of parent I wanted to be and I haven’t met them. My idea is nothing new. A quick google will reveal stories of parents recognising the benefits of taking significant periods of leave to spend time with older children.
As my kids enter their second decade on the planet, they seem to need me more than ever. My ten-year-old’s reaction to my proposed leave sealed the decision. She was genuinely excited at the prospect of her father at last attending school assemblies, soccer training, band practice and likely many new activities she is about to commence.
I assume in a few short years, or perhaps months, my mere existence will be the cause of deep and long-lasting embarrassment. My hideous appearance within a fifteen kilometre radius of her will spark wild derision.
To be honest, I approached those early bonding days a decade ago with fear and trepidation. This time round, I look forward to the next year with excitement. Suddenly, instead of pushing the kids out the door in the morning, madly fixing my tie and checking my emails, we can slowly walk to school talking about the events of the day.
My greatest fear is whether I will be able to keep a supportive expression when my daughters start talking about teen crushes and the new Tay-Tay single.
I’ve organised the leave through work, made a public commitment (via the local newspaper) and spoken to the family at length about it.
All that is left is to spend some quality time with my kids…and record it here so we can all look back on the adventure.